- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

The era of big government is back. Just take a look around you. Newspaper headlines reveal a laundry list of new government initiatives and handouts. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and taxicab companies clamor for their share of newfound government largesse. Welfare reform appears to be out the window, as the unemployed gain the ability to stay on the welfare rolls for longer months before we even know whether they will need an extension beyond the normal timelines.
What has happened to us? For decades, more and more Americans increasingly held fast to the philosophy that less government is good while excessive governmental involvement is bad. Federal regulations? Bad. State regulations? Well, at least they are better than the federal equivalent. Government spending? Bad. Tax cuts? Good.
We didn't show much conviction when the going got tough, did we? We've caved.
Do we really have so little confidence in the philosophies that have served us so well in other times? Did Ronald Reagan, at the height of the Cold War, bring the country out of recession and rejuvenate the American spirit by heaping more "governmental help" on Americans? Of course not. He did the opposite. He held fast to the belief that the people can help themselves more efficiently than the government can help them. He persevered even when those around him wanted to raise taxes for more governmental programs. Mr. Reagan appropriately distinguished between those areas in which federal intervention is necessary and desirable national defense and those areas in which it is a hindrance domestic policy and economic concerns.
We don't seem to have learned much. We are no longer able to distinguish between the two areas at all.
Our newly revived big government mentality flows into practically every area. We demand welfare assistance, when we need tax cuts or more deductions for charitable donations. Airlines beg for bail outs, but much more helpful are exemptions from the various, sundry and multitudinous taxes that they pay on a daily basis. As the Dow stumbles and wavers, various economic stimulus packages are promoted. Does anyone not believe that a capital-gains tax cut would be the best stimulus for the economy right now? A long-term stimulus, not just momentary gratification? Did we not learn in the 1980s that freeing up the people's money also frees the people themselves to take care of their own families and companies? Are we so slow?
But away from taxes and on to other areas in which Americans can help themselves. For instance, airport security. Terrified, Americans cling to their government, seeking safety in the skies. Take away more weapons, we plead. Please, do anything, subject us to any kind of search, take away our nail clippers if you must, but, please, just make us feel safer.
Have we not yet learned that anything can be made into a weapon? Salvation does not lie in the creation of some kind of "weapons-free zone." There is no such thing. If knives are taken away, forks will be used. If forks are taken away, fountain pens will make effective spears. If even those are taken away, terrorists will be taught to snap necks with their bare hands. Safety lies in being able to defend yourself, not creating some unachievable utopia in the sky.
No one is safe when the only people capable of killing or injuring in the skies are the terrorists. Safety lies in not knowing where weapons might lie or perhaps in knowing, for certain, that they are present in the hands of someone who will use them to foil an evil plot. Remember, the primary goal of a terrorist is to be successful in his mission. He is not afraid of death, but he does not want to die without first accomplishing his goal.
There is only one solution that provides a reasonable degree of safety. Not coincidentally, it is also the solution that calls for the least government intrusion. Give guns to the pilots if they want them. Hire air marshals. Most importantly, enforce the laws already on the books don't create new ones. What have the new regulations accomplished that effective enforcement of the old could not have achieved already? Does anyone really think I am safer because I can no longer bring a briefcase and a purse onto the plane? We should instead train security personnel to perform their jobs better. Give airports and air carriers the ability to get rid of incompetent personnel. (Read: Tort reform works here, too.) Whatever we do, we should not create another inefficient, cumbersome bureaucracy to "improve" aviation security.
Didn't we see that Americans help themselves and each other better than their government can just days ago? This time, not a terrorist, but a mentally ill man rushed the cockpit of another American Airlines plane. Did all the government regulations and funding save the plane from another disaster? No. It was the people who saved the plane. They tackled and subdued the would-be cockpit assailant as the pilot flew the plane to safety. They took care of themselves and each other.
Not amazingly, we were right the first time. Nothing has really changed. Less government is always a good thing. Americans are an ingenious, courageous, innovative people when we remember not to lean too heavily on bureaucrats.

Tara L. Branum is a senior fellow at the American Freedom Center.


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